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The True Cost of Natural Areas: Who Pays for their Conservation?

This past June 25 at 4:00 p.m. Mexico Central Time, more than 70 conservation enthusiasts gathered at the Manos Locales Network to discuss a crucial topic: the true cost of natural areas and who pays for their conservation. This event brought together various experts and communities from diverse sectors who shared their knowledge and experiences, providing a comprehensive view on the challenges and solutions in financing our precious natural areas.

The Tourism Dilemma

Miguel Palmeros, representative of the Balandra Collective, immersed us in the reality of one of the most emblematic natural protected areas. Balandra is a destination that, although protected, faces the challenge of balancing conservation with tourism. Palmeros explained that while tourism can generate essential income for conservation, it can also cause environmental damage if not properly managed. Trash, damage to the dunes, and overcrowding of vendors are recurring problems.

The solution, according to Palmeros, is clear: more investment is needed in education and awareness-raising among tourists. In addition, it is crucial to have adequate funding to implement and maintain control measures to ensure the area's carrying capacity, ensuring that tourism is a positive force for conservation.

The Importance of Surveillance

Alejandro Torres of Pronatura addressed the vital role of monitoring and surveillance committees in the Natural Protected Areas (NPAs) of Baja California Sur (BCS). These committees are fundamental for conservation, but their operation entails significant costs. He explained that these costs are covered by a combination of government funds, NGO support and, in some cases, income generated by tourism.

High season tourism can have a double impact: more visitors mean more income from entrance fees and services, which can be reinvested in conservation and monitoring activities. However, they also increase pressure on natural resources, which requires greater investment in management and monitoring. The key here is to manage tourism so that its benefits do not compromise environmental integrity.

Sierra Norte Expeditions:

Angelina Martínez took us to the Sierra Norte, where the Pueblos Mancomunados have developed a model of ecotourism that combines conservation with local economic development. This model has been a success, but not without costs. Communities bear significant expenses to maintain infrastructure, train staff, promote tourism in a sustainable manner and manage tourism activities.

Governance in the Pueblos Mancomunados is exemplary. Based on inter-community cooperation and the active participation of all stakeholders, it ensures that decisions are made collectively and that the benefits of tourism are distributed equitably. This approach not only guarantees the viability of tourism, but also the preservation of the region's natural and cultural heritage.

Who Pays for Conservation?

Government: Fundamental Pillar of Investment and Education

The role of government is essential in the conservation of natural areas. To effectively protect these spaces, it is imperative that the government increase its investment in protected areas. This funding not only ensures the implementation of conservation measures, but also facilitates visitor education. Educating the public about the importance of conservation is crucial to encourage responsible and sustainable behavior. Educational programs, awareness campaigns and robust environmental policies are fundamental tools that the government must use to ensure the long-term protection of our ecosystems.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs): Resource Mobilizers and Promoters of Sustainability

NGOs play an indispensable role in mobilizing financial and human resources for conservation. These organizations not only raise funds, but also promote sustainable practices and facilitate the replication of successful actions in different regions. NGOs act as catalysts, connecting local communities, scientists, governments and the private sector to work together towards a common goal: the conservation of our natural areas. Their ability to implement pilot projects and share knowledge is vital to the expansion of successful conservation initiatives.

Local Communities: Guardians of Natural and Cultural Heritage

Local communities are the true guardians of their natural heritage. They manage and protect their natural resources while seeking opportunities for local economic development. This dual approach ensures that communities can prosper economically without sacrificing their natural environment. Through initiatives such as ecotourism, local communities can generate income while educating visitors about the importance of conservation. Their knowledge and connection to the land are invaluable in developing conservation strategies that are culturally and environmentally sustainable.

Private Sector and Tourism: Partners in Promoting Sustainability

The private sector and the tourism industry have a crucial role to play in the conservation of natural areas. By collaborating with other stakeholders, they can promote sustainable practices and contribute financially to conservation efforts. Tourism companies can implement responsible tourism policies that minimize environmental impacts and support local communities. In addition, the private sector can provide the necessary resources for conservation projects, from funding research to implementing innovative technologies for environmental management.

Environmental Defense Groups and Collectives: Voice and Action at the Local Level

Environmental collectives and advocacy groups do invaluable work at the local level, promoting conservation and awareness. These groups, often made up of passionate citizens, lead conservation campaigns, organize community cleanups, and educate their neighbors about the importance of protecting their environment. Their grassroots work is crucial to fostering a culture of conservation and empowering communities to take action. These groups also serve as watchdogs, ensuring that conservation policies are properly implemented and that natural areas receive the protection they need.


The true cost of conserving natural areas is not only measured in monetary terms. It involves time, effort and the collaboration of multiple actors. It is a joint and coordinated investment that ensures the protection and preservation of our ecosystems for future generations. At the end of the day, conservation is a labor of love and commitment, a legacy that we all have a responsibility to care for and protect.

So the next time you visit a national park, a reserve or any natural area, remember that your presence there is part of a larger equation. Every step you take, every photo you take, every moment you enjoy is made possible by the tireless efforts of many. And now, more than ever, we must all do our part to ensure that these wonderful places continue to exist.

We could not close this article without dedicating a special space to Nataly Hernandezleader of Reserva Naturathe first digital reservation system for the sustainable management of tourism in natural areas.

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